Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Outrage



It's easy to be outraged. That's probably because there is so much about which to be outraged. Often, the most outrageous thing of all is that others are not outraged.

A little known fact about me is that I hold a degree in journalism and while I've not made a career in the profession (except to the degree that this blog could be considered a journalistic endeavor), I'm an interested, and somewhat informed, observer and critic of the practice of journalism and the media in general. No one can deny that most of the news media, especially the national media, manufactures outrage for profit. 

This is not a new phenomenon, of course. Broadsheets and newspapers learned early on that outrageous headlines sell. Newsrooms have long adhered to the mantra, "If it bleeds it leads." Cable and network news are often little more than one outrage after another followed by outraged commentators arguing over who is the most outrageous. Social media is no less driven by outrage.

I'm not here to argue that there are not outrageous things happening in our world. Indeed, if you are inclined to outrage, there is no lack of things about which to vent and stew, to rant and rave. It's also true that the stress that comes with outrage and anger shortens our lives. It's exhausting, it weakens us, it perverts our personalities, and, frankly, it makes us less pleasant to be around, all of which have the effect of, if not shortening our lives in terms of time on the planet, at least eating up that time with, well, outrage.

As a man who has just crossed the threshold of my sixth decade, I'm increasingly aware that I don't want to live out my remaining days as an angry old man. At the same time, and this is the hard part, I don't want to hide away from the outrages of the world. Ignorance may be bliss, but it's also a privilege that not everyone has. There are few things more outrageous to me than when someone says, "I don't follow the news" or "I don't do politics." It strikes me as the smug selfishness of a person who has secured themself a seat on a lifeboat, then refuses to help others lest they get wet. Taking a break from the outrageousness is healthy, but a permanent break is an abdication, a failure of our responsibility as humans.

One thing I've learned from working with young children is that outrageous things, while outrageous, needn't cause me to feel outraged. Outrage is a habit. I've even known people for whom it seems to be a kind of addiction. And all too often, our feeling of outrage becomes a stand-in for action.

In our role as preschool teachers, we encounter genuine outrages several times a day. A child will brazenly snatch another child's plaything, or hit another child, or destroy another child's painstakingly constructed block tower, or exclude someone. These are the very kinds of behaviors that outrage us when we see it on the news, but in the classroom, as professionals, we address the outrage without succumbing to our own outrage. That's because we know that the children are still learning and approaching them in anger is a failure on our part.

Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a man who in his work explored the darkest parts of the human soul, wrote, "As a general rule, people, even the wicked, are much more naive and simple-hearted than we suppose. And we ourselves are, too." In other words, we are all still learning, even those who are doing outrageous things.

When children are in conflict, when "wicked" things are happening, we know better than to approach them  in anger. When we do, we become part of the outrage: we frighten, we shame, and we punish, none of which does anything but stir the cycle of outrage. Of course, we all know that we can only do good when we approach the children, no matter how outrageously they are behaving, with compassion.

It's harder to do with adults, I'll confess, and that's because it's so hard to remember their essential simple-hearted naiveté. When we do, however, when we replace our outrage with compassion, we increase the chances of actually doing something to help stop the pain, heal the wounds, and make the world a better place.

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"I recommend these books to everyone concerned with children and the future of humanity." ~Peter Gray, Ph.D. If you want to see what Dr. Gray is talking about you can find Teacher Tom's First Book and Teacher Tom's Second Book right here

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